“A makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools,” Mrs. Johnson shared the vision of the Makerspace at J.T. Manning Elementary School surrounded by a green screen, bins of blocks, large wooden tools, and Ipads that are all part of the space. She has such excitement because of how she has seen it transform learning for her students. She notices when her students are engaged in learning this way that every class and grade selects to work with tools in different ways and that “I see students collaborate with other students they don't know very well and this type of learning allows students who do not always shine, rise to the top, and always ask to come back again.” She learned so much about creating this type of environment through a workshop provided by the Bureau of Education and Research she attended in order to bring this innovative experience to her library students. The tools for the Makerspace were funded by the Manning PTO’s “Big Idea” project after Mrs. Billie and Mrs. Johnson wrote a proposal to bring this opportunity to their students. Students rush into the library and their eyes immediately scan the many options that have to explore and create during their library time. Each class looks different and for a group of 2nd Graders they pull out chrome books and eagerly listen to Mrs. Johnson ask “When we want to do research how do we find answers to our questions?” She explains the research project they are about to embark on and allows them to offer feedback on how we find answers online and in books as well as how we stay safe online. These very same lessons are useful at every age level but it is powerful how Mrs. Johnson is allowing the students to learn by doing. Their project was to research space travel and what being an astronaut is all about in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and then present their learning by filming an interview with “an astronaut” using the Makerspace green screen. There is a collective gasp of glee in the room when Mrs. Johnson announces that the microphones for their filming arrived. The students are so excited to dress up and play the role of a newscaster and astronaut in their groups but first they must formulate questions and research their answers using reputable websites and books from the library. “How astronauts go to the bathroom in space” proved to be a popular question and students are drawn into asking many questions about traveling to the moon, what kind of environment astronauts live in, how astronauts eat, and how they learn about space. Students are put into groups and are soon buzzing with questions, giggles, and celebrating when they find an answer in the library’s books or online.
The ethos of Makerspace includes: Everyone is a maker, makers share what they make and help others make what they share, making is an interdisciplinary endeavor, and making requires critical thinking and problem-solving skills. (Andy Mann, leader of a Makerspace workshop). As Mrs. Johnson moves from group to group she gently challenges them to stay on task, encourages their great questions, and offers guidance without doing their work for them. A skill amazing educators like Mrs. Johnson know well! She is teaching valuable lessons on rewriting text using their own words and celebrating their curiosity as she checks in with their progress. This curiosity is more important than the project outcome because this spirit is what Makerspace is all about! Makerspace is about creating a culture of learning and experimenting and sharing. Mrs. Johnson is passionate about building this culture during Makerspace lessons by embracing several norms (from Diana Rendina) including a culture of acceptance, a willingness to make mistakes, embracing of individuality and creativity along with a spirit that says "why not?", allowing students a space so they're not afraid to get messy, and cultivating an openness to new ideas. As 3rd Graders work together to build a cart they discover that the wheels will not move because they tightened them too much. Students work together to suggest ideas and they switch out a few pieces and try something new and soon they are pulling each other through the library cheering that they figured it out together. A student shares, “There is a lot of fun things to make craft .You could also make a car with the rig a jig blocks. You could also go in front the green screen and make a movie or video. You could play on the computer. It`s a great space. There`s a lot of fun things to do." Another students adds, “It is a magical space!”
During the classroom time Makerspace looks different at different grade levels but as students build towers or a cart that holds 2 students and discuss what works for a strong base it is clear that risking and evaluating is being learned in a team. Students gets to works with blocks, large wooden building pieces, yarn, beads, and ipads and computers. Mrs. Johnson is always learning with her students and has been surprised that fewer and fewer students choose a screen when they have a choice. Many students gravitate towards building or making something tactile. For 2nd Grader Rayne E. she smiles and shares, “I love this because we get to learn about space and learn what we want to study!” They are learning to be inquisitive and then investigate what they want to learn and then take charge of their own learning. Charlie G. shared, “I really like that we get to type in our questions and find answers.”
Mrs. Johnson provides encouraging guidance through the Makerspace experience and works with the students over many weeks to research, create questions, fine tune their ideas, beginning to site their sources, and finally write their scripts to be performed in front of the green screen. Having a project to showcase their learning is important and many students are excited to start filming. “We are nervous but so excited about filming too!” Olivia P. shares that the final project is allowing the students to push their learning to the next level. They are also learning how to edit with a new application on the Ipads and working together adding a background and tweaking their videos to present to one another. During filming Mrs. Johnson encourages one student who really was shining in this activity especially because he has struggled with other activities. It is so clear how much she loves seeing all her students thrive and that she is grateful for the opportunities students have to gain confidence in their abilities. Students have much to say about their time in Makerspace, “It allows you to use your imagination to make whatever you want without being forced to make something." Another student shared "I like that you could make whatever craft you want. There is plenty of supplies for everyone. You could do anything with your creativity. That is why I like the makerspace"
Makerspace is a place of learning AND fun and it is hard to tell when one stops and the other begins; which at it’s best is what lifelong learning is about: being curious, risking, failing, and trying again. Mrs. Johnson sees the overall benefits to makerspace each time she opens the space to her students as they build creativity, develop critical thinking and problems solving skills individually and as they collaborate as a group. They are learning to apply knowledge to practical problems and to stay curious.